Book Review: A Drop of Chinese Blood by James Church

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Title: A Drop Of Chinese Blood.

Author: James Church (nom de plume).

Genre: Detective Fiction.

Publisher: Minotaur Books.

Publication Date: November 13th 2012.

Hardback: 304 Pages.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone, although James Church has penned several other ‘Inspector O’ novels.

Why did I choose to read this book?: I was flattered to learn that someone, other than my family, was reading my blog. As a result of this, I was sent this book through the post because they thought I would enjoy reading it, so I did.

Where to read: A very comfy armchair.

Refreshments: Chicken noodle soup – the number of times noodles are referred too can’t help but make you want a bowl!

Review:

This book is written by a former U.S Intelligence Officer who worked for a long time in Asia and has used his past experiences to create a series of novels centered on a fictitious former North Korean officer known as Inspector O.

In this outing, the novel is written from the view point of the inspector’s nephew, Major Bing, who works as the chief of the Chinese Ministry of State Security operations on the border with North Korea. He is an unenthusiastic landlord to his uncle and, after his wife ran off with all his money and a pastry chef, has a pile of debts to pay not to mention continued attempts to prevent bulldozers destroying his house.

In this adventure not only does Bing have private issues to contend with but now has to deal with the fact that his predecessor appears to have defected to North Korea. Bing is tasked to bring him back across the border along with a forged government seal, with his uncle as a reluctant side-kick. In a complex plot involving fake noodle chefs, femme fatales and counter intelligence teams, Bing finds himself on a road-trip to Mongolia with his uncle in tow to try and connect the multiple strings that seem to be tying him up in knots.

The most important part of this book is the relationship between Inspector O and his nephew. It not only reflects the tensions between North Korea and China but it also provides unexpected comedy. The fact that both his father and uncle worked in North Korean Intelligence casts a shadow on Bing’s trustworthiness as a Chinese officer and is something that is repeatedly touched upon as he gets dragged into this web of intrigue. His uncle’s connections is one of the main reasons he gets given this assignment and is also why he gets pulled into a number of difficult situations involving the Mongolian police. The suspicion that taints this area is touched upon by their relationship, but as a reader that doesn’t know much about this history it would have been nice to have a little more in terms of background.

What I enjoyed most is that Church has injected a hearty dose of sarcasm into the dialogue notable favourites being, ‘Want the last pork dumpling? Or should we wrap it up & give it to the woman from the Muslim Hotel?’ and, ‘he had hooded, dark eyes and a cruel mouth, as if he ate orphans.’ This banter allows you to connect with the characters and offers an insight into the relationship between the cantankerous Inspector O and the sceptical Bing as well as adding a humorous edge to the story.

Church clearly knows his subject matter and is well versed in the political history of this region however, as a reader who’s not completely au fait with the intricacies of the relationship between China, North Korea and Mongolia it was not the most straightforward read. This coupled with the multitude of sub-plots, lies and deception made it often confusing as to whom and what was involved in any given part of the story.

In addition, the background of Inspector O and also his brother, Major Bing’s father, is left very vague when this is probably one of the more intriguing sub-sections of the plot. These issues might be explained in more detail in previous Inspector O novels, but taking this as a stand-alone novel it’s quite frustrating as a reader to have a lot of gaps left in the characters lives.

Overall I enjoyed the sarcasm, wit and humour that dominated the two central characters, however, as a detective novel I found it confused as if the author was trying to achieve too much from a plot that at first seemed relatively simple.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Easy Listening: Charles Paris

Title: Murder in the Title, a Charles Paris mystery.

Author: Jeremy Front based on the books by Simon Brett

Genre: Comic Crime

Publisher: BBC Audio Books

Voice: Charles Paris is played by the mighty Bill Nighy!

Broadcast: 13th December 2010 – Radio 4

Stand alone or Series: Four radio episodes per story or obviously just the one book.

Why: There are few voices I could probably die happily listening too one is David Attenborough the other is Bill Nighy therefore, the choice was already made for me.

Where: In bed, on the tube or even doing a spot of cleaning at home.

Refreshments: Snacks, whatever comes to mind.

Review:

Charles Paris is an out of work, alcoholic actor who frequently finds himself embroiled in unusual situations,  involving multiple murders and a damsel in distress who relies on him to solve the crimes and act the super sleuth – in between shots of scotch.

In his latest stage performance, our unlikely hero hits a new low in his less-than glittering career as he finds himself working for a local theatre company in Rugland Spa, where he plays a corpse. However, when accidents begin to happen, Charles finds himself once again playing the role of detective.

The central character of Charles Paris has stuck gold with the casting of Bill Nighy. His slightly husky  and world weary tone, his age similarity to the character and his  air of eloquent buffoonery makes him the perfect fit.  His performance as Paris is reminiscent of previous Nighy roles such as, Quentin in, ‘The Boat that Rocked’ and Slartibarfast in, ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,’ where he manages to capture the character and add his own roguish charm to captivate the listener.

Paris is accompanied by the sounds of The Kinks, Eric Clapton and The Doors, reliving the bygone days of his youth and leading us to the inevitable drunken scene down the local pub. In this case in-between takes when we are taken on his journey from two pints and two shots of scotch in the space of ten minutes, to running back to the theatre where he is supposed to be found dead in the closet.

On the theme of music his mobile phone ringtones are used to great comedic effect. He is alerted to calls from his estranged and long-suffering wife, Frances, by   Je t’aime.. moi non plus by Serge Gainsbourg. This encapsulates beautifully his on-going task to get back into her good books and back into the marital bed after all the mistakes he has made. On the other hand we have ‘The Funeral March,’ for his agent Maurice which supports his feeling that his career would have been a lot more successful if only his agent had supported him. These work well alongside the setting of the story, when Charles finds himself in a backwater town, rather than the starry lights of Hollywood.

You can’t help but feel sorry for the character of Paris, he is reminiscent of that family friend that your parents insisted you called ‘Uncle,’ someone to take pity on as he gets himself into situations that largely aren’t his fault. 

I love listening to Bill Nighy he plays the louche, unlikely hero brilliantly and is supported by a brilliant cast and exceptional, well thought out music choices. This is seriously something you could listen to wherever you are, whatever you’re doing – LISTEN

 

Rating: 9 – I’m sorry I may be biased but I love it!…